Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holidays at the Crosley - Festival of Trees

I can't believe that this is the 15th annual Holidays at the Crosley - Festival of Trees, presented by the Crosley Estate Foundation, and I have NEVER attended before!  I was invited to the preview party last night and I must say it was a joy!  I am not going to share too much with you because I want  you to go and see everything with fresh eyes, but I will share a few things with you, just to get you excited about attending.  It is open daily from Nov. 30th - Dec.7th, 11 AM to 9 PM. 

I was pleasantly surprised by just how much there was to see!  The mansion is filled with locally decorated Christmas trees - room after room after room, downstairs and upstairs.  There is also a gingerbread house room/competition, a long upstairs hallway that is filled with wreaths hanging on the walls that are for sale, all the fireplaces are decorated, there is a model train room, and it goes on and on.  For the first time this year, the recently restored Carriage House is open to the public and it is also decorated.  It also has several holiday tablescapes, which I hope they increase next year. 

There are many activities/special events planned also - daily afternoon teas, boat rides, and special performances.  I think you should add this to your holiday event schedule - you won't be sorry!

Rachel Harrison and event coordinator, Anna Pohl

Event chair, Natalie Gundrun

One of the trees decorated by the Junior League of Manatee with historic photos of League members.

The Perfect Setting designed this tree "village"

A close up of the village

Lionel Bill's Train Collection

The other half of the train collection

A decorated fireplace mantel

One of the decorated wreaths that are for sale.  This one is $45.

One of the gingerbread houses

Another gingerbread house

Yet another gingerbread house

You can tell I adored the gingerbread houses

One of the table settings - a good idea - a lace chair cover made our of a table runner - divine!

Joyce Hart made these topiaries out of fresh parsley.  She said that after they dry out and turn brown, she will spray paint them gold for next year - genius!

Cute way to decorate a bathroom

How creative to decorate a shower curtain by hanging ornaments!  I have to remember that one!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holiday Table Settings and Entertaining Ideas

I love creating inviting tablescapes for meals - whether for company or family.  Christmas tablescapes are especially fun.  When I started styling this particular blog, I had no idea how challenging it would be!  It is actually much harder to make an interesting arrangement for one than it is to set an entire table.  Also, I realized as I got into it, I didn't have any fresh flowers!  Oh, horrors!  I really do like to use fresh flowers, so as I go along, I will share with you in words, how I would do an entire table, but you will get the general idea with the settings below.  I hope you are inspired to create a special setting for your family and friends tonight!

Unless I am having a very special party, I like to start with things I already have as a base and then add on as needed.  I have an array of table linens, dishes, and napkin rings to select from, trying to do something different each time.  Here are a few ideas below....enjoy!

I thought for the first one, I would show that you can start with regular dishes and still have an inviting Christmas scene.  I started with a red table cloth, my regular white plate (I bought 24 place settings of these white dishes years ago at Maas Brothers.  They are really useful for buffets.) and a salad plate from Williams Sonoma.  I added two feather trees and a "woodland" Santa.  I would probably put them down the center of the table with votive candles in the little black lantern that is on the  upper left hand side.  You can barely see it, but it matches the lantern that is hanging off Santa's hand.  I bought five of these lanterns on clearance at Michael's Crafts several years ago, just knowing that I would use them sometime!  I think I got them for a dollar a piece. You can't see it in detail, but beside the lantern is a little nest with a bird perched on it.  The place card is tucked in behind it.  The green, red, and tan napkin gives a rustic feeling, as does the grapevine wreath napkin ring.  I am using my hand blown green goblets.

I could see using this place setting when I have my grandchildren over to make holiday cookies.  A bright green polka dot tablecloth is topped with a red ruffled charger and my white dinner plate.  The red napkin is trimmed with bright green ric-rac and has a gingerbread man napkin ring.  A red goblet brings pep to the table, as does the green sparkly snowflakes at the top left of the plate.  The cutest thing though is the gingerbread house cookie tin at the top.  You can have one at each child's place so they have something to take their wonderful cookies home in!  I think I would do something simple like several small white poinsettias lined up down the center of the table and maybe sprinkle small candies like gumdrops, etc. all around. 

Using the same tablecloth as above, let's change things up for a casual girlfriend luncheon.  I like this ceramic snowman with the metal "pail" hat.  He would make a good centerpiece with "snow" sprinkled down the center of the table.  I might also do something like small square vases packed with red carnations on either side of him.  I used my white plates again, topped with silver gray salad plates to match the snowman's hat.  The red plaid napkin picks up the colors of the snowman and the jingle bell napkin ring brings whimsy and matches the green table cloth.  I especially adore the big red jingle bell that I am using as  a place card holder.  My flatware here is my everyday silver plate that my husband's sister gave us when we were married 36 years ago. 

This place setting is a little more contemporary in feeling.  I used the red tablecloth, but added a white and black polka dot square underneath it.  Do you know what the square is?  Scrapbooking paper!  I just really liked the look of it and if it gets soiled, so what!  You can just throw it away!  I drew my inspiration from the little Santa gift box that has a black background and the "JOY" is candy cane stripes.  You can't see it well, but the real candy canes at the upper left are in a red shiny pail with white fur around the top - so cute!  You could mix several of the pails with several Santas for an adorable centerpiece.  I think I might also add white fluffy cotton batting down the center for the pails and the Santas to nestle in.  Black napkins are unexpected and add a nice grounding color.

This gives a nice cozy cabin feeling.  These are dishes I bought years ago at Target.  They have a soft moss green border with white pine trees and deer.  The little bread plate in the center is trimmed in brown, with a golden tan "NOEL" imprinted on the center.  The napkin is a textured heavy weave cotton encircled with a green wreath napkin ring.  The white-tipped pine cone is used as a place card holder.  The party favor is an apple cake mix with a green spatula tied to the outside.  There are tiny pine cones nestled around the green goblet.  I think I would use small green trees down the center with white pillar candles in clear glass hurricane shades and a sprinkling of pine cones and maybe some small deer and maybe raffia in some way.

I loved this initial ornament.  I thought is was just as cute as can be and a fun way to identify who should be seated where.  The red and green linens are a waffle weave with a casual feel.  The napkin ring is a ceramic tree made by my late mother-in-law.  If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will notice lots of ceramics that were made by Barbie Benedict.  That was her "thing" for several years.  She enjoyed going to her weekly ceramic classes, so everybody in the family got some type of ceramic for almost every gift giving occasion.  I like to use natural materials if I can, so for the centerpiece I would use my big twig basket with greens and fresh apples.  In the glass candle holders, I am using tiny pine cones around the white pillar candle.
This table setting was the most challenging.  I am using my red tablecloth again with a red napkin tied with a gold ribbon to match the gold ruffled charger.  The little glass nutcracker ornament is tucked inside.  I think I would put my lantern in the middle of the table and several of my nutcrackers on each side with votives and walnuts still in their shells scattered around.

These are my everyday dishes during December.  I think I bought them at Target years ago.  They sit atop a red charger on a red and green plaid table runner and a green napkin.  I like to use my Byers Carolers as a centerpiece with snow sprinkled around and lots of white votives.  It's nice to add a few small trees if you can.  It would be nice to add rosemary topiaries if they are available.  Then you can give one to everyone as a party favor.  I also like these little bags of peppermint candies tied up with a red bow for a festive touch.

Okay, I won't deny it - these dishes are my pride and joy - the Holidays pattern from Tiffany & Co.  I remember when I first started buying them.  It was years ago before the Internet and I had to go to an actual Tiffany's store to buy them.  It was May 1995, at a Junior League national conference in San Francisco and I cut out of one of the seminars to go to Tiffany's to buy my first four place settings.  I was a very happy girl!  I have my sterling flatware, Old Maryland Engraved and my crystal wine glasses that were given to me about 26 years ago when I left Jacobson's in Osprey.  I had worked there several years right out of college and was the home store manager.  I "retired" to be a stay-at-home mom and the whole store pitched in to buy me 16 pieces of stemware.  I was very touched and I still use them!  My table is rather narrow, so if I am using everything including the bread and butter plates, I need something narrow down the center, so I would use something like above.  The only other thing I might do is add red ribbon weaving in and out of the greenery.  I tucked in a sprig of red berries to add life to the white linen napkin.

This is a more casual way to use the Tiffany china - a red plaid tablecloth, greenery with pears, apples, pine cones and nuts to mimic the design on the china and brass candlesticks.  Though you can hardly see him, there is a little Santa at the top of the plate.  Several years ago, I saw these little Santas on clearance at a craft store and I bought all they had, I think about 20.  There are five or six different styles of Santas, but they all coordinate.  I use them to add interest to the placesetting.  They add a little whimsy to formal china.  The green napkin has a twig wreath napkin ring. 

I hope you use these 10 place settings to spark your imagination.  A few tips....

1.  Don't think you have to have Christmas china.  You can certainly make a festive table with your regular dishes.
2.  If you can though, it is scads of fun to have a few inexpensive patterns and one very lovely one.  It makes my heart sing to use my good Christmas china.  But that's the thing, you have to USE it.  You can't let it just sit on the shelf.  You deserve to use your good things every day.
3.  Keep your eye open for clearance items at craft stores.  For just pennies, you can add little touches that bring whimsy and magic to your table.
4.  Use your collections for your centerpieces.  I often just walk around my house and grab things here and there to use.  It brings personality to your table.
5.  Look outside for greenery you can use on your table.  It was pouring rain when I put together they settings or I would have been outside cutting greenery and flowers to use.  I love the florist, but I love just cutting things from the yard, too.
6.  Buy your basic red, green, and white table linens and then add on.  I probably have 20 Christmas tablecloths that I have gathered over the years.  I am very partial to plaid and have about five different plaids.  The same with napkins.  Have your basics and then you can add a few patterns.  Stripes and polka dots are traditional, yet add lots of "pop" to your table.
7.  Napkin rings go in and out of fashion.  I literally have drawers full of napkin rings.  They add lots of interest to a basic plate.
8.  One thing that I didn't use in the above photos, but are inexpensive and plentiful - Christmas ball ornaments.  They come in all sizes and colors and look terrific either piled in a big glass dish or scattered around the table.  I have even tied three different colors together and laid them at intervals down my table in between small floral arrangements.  It costs very little and looks very festive.
9.  I have a bit of a split personality.  I like very formal dinner settings and then I like very casual cabin-like rustic settings.  They both make me feel like Christmas.  I encourage you to mix the two.  The juxtaposition of the two styles gives you something very eclectic and vibrant.
10.  Don't be afraid to go big and bold.  As long as you can see over it, don't be afraid to use something, or several things, very substantial as a centerpiece.  Make a statement!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Decorating at My Home

Each year the Friday after Thanksgiving is my Christmas decorating day.  I can't imagine getting up at the crack of dawn (or earlier) to go shopping - how uncivilized.  Instead, I lovingly unwrap all my holidays decorations and start to prepare my house for Christmas.  Below are a few of my collections that I wanted to share with you and tips for creating holiday happiness in your home.  Tomorrow I will share several place settings and party ideas to get you in the holiday spirit!

My Byers Carolers Collection

My Nutcracker collection and a big lantern that was decoration on the fireplace mantel when I chaired Mistletoe Ball.  Of course, there is also a bowl of candy!

My Fontanini Creche Collection.  The painting behind it was recently given to me from the Hermitage board after chairing the Artful Lobster for the third time.

A close-up of the creche.  This is the only one of my collections where I would still like to add some pieces.

A holiday tablescape

My Majolica collection.  On the two glass shelves is pine greenery.   I try to put a little touch of Christmas on everything!

A holiday tablescape

Sconces dressed for Christmas

My Santa collection.  The two lanterns on each side are from the Mistletoe Ball I chaired. They were the table centerpieces.

A close-up of the Santas - many which were made by my late mother-in-law.

A close-up of the greenery on the chest where I normally have my Dept. 56 Christmas in the City collection.  After being sick for over a week, I just can't quite get rested yet.  It just seemed like too much effort this year to pull it all out and set it up.  This was much easier and I have already forgiven myself for not making the effort to set it up.  I'll show it to you next year, okay?

A few tips for decorating....

1.  I put wreaths on every door to the outside that I have.  I also have two large (around 4 ft. tall) nutcrackers on either side of my front door.  Of course, it just wouldn't be Christmas without hanging up outside lights.  In the house I like white lights, but outside I like the multi-colored lights.  I think my husband thinks it is a colossal pain to hang lights, but he does it anyway.  I think that is the number one decorating thing that makes my Christmas.  I also put a holiday doormat at each door.
2.  I try to change my answering machine message to include a holiday greeting.  You would be surprised how many callers actually comment on it.  This year I have a new phone system, so I need to read up on how to change my outgoing message, which isn't as easy as it used to be!
3.  As you can see, I like to have many bowls of candy sitting on several tabletops so it is easy for visitors to take a few pieces.  It just seems like a very friendly gesture.
4.  I put out holiday towels in every bathroom and the kitchen and change the soap dispensers to holiday ones. 
5.  I put greenery on every chandelier and sconce in my house and tie a ribbon on each arm.
6.  I like to have lots of fresh Christmas plants around - poinsettias, Christmas cactus, paper whites, rosemary topiaries. 
7.  Each day I like to play lots of Christmas music, light candles all over the house, and make sure I use my holiday dishes, of which I have three sets!  Two casual and one fancy.  You'll see those in my post tomorrow.
8.  I used to do three trees, all with a different theme, but in the last few years, I have cut back to just the main one in the living room.  I change it every few years.  This year I have lots of big magnolias on it with red, gold, and white balls.  I like lots of "things" sticking out of it like red berry branches, gold curly-ques and pearl branches.  Also, tons of plaid bows to match the one on the sconces.  No matter what, we always have an angel at the top.
9.  I hang a large pine garland in the family room for Christmas card display.  Years ago I spray-painted clothespins with gold paint and that's how I attach the cards to the garland. 
10.  Last, but not least, I iron all my Christmas table linens and polish all my silver so I am ready at the drop of a Santa hat to set a pretty holiday table!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

WRC Kickin' Up Your Heels!

Even though I live in Nokomis and have for 30 years, I tend to go to very few South County events.  I used to do more in the Venice area when my girls were growing up, but for the last 20 years or so, my social life has pretty much been in Sarasota.  That's why I was particularly pleased to attend the Women's Resource Center's Annual Fall Gathering - Kickin' Up Your Heels! at the Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice last Friday.

I must say, there is a noticeable difference between Sarasota and Venice events.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but you can tell you are in different places.  I am not saying one is better than the other at all, just different and I find that interesting.  I love to analyze these things.

There was quite an extensive silent auction and then at noon, WRC Executive Director, Janice Zarro welcomed everyone and said we were in for a different kind of luncheon, and I would have to agree with her!  It was different and lots of fun.

Kicking off the rollicking good times was Christine Jennings, who has gotten all cool and funky, well, as funky as a Midwestern white girl of a certain age can get, since she became the Executive Director of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe a few years ago.  I mean, my goodness, she was even sporting some black leather!  She was there to introduce two stars of WBTT, who each performed separately that afternoon.  First was Broadway star, Teresa Stanley, who sang songs from "Love Sung in the Key of Aretha", which included the anthem, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  We all joyfully sang along.

After lunch, Challenge Graduate, Tammy Williams, stood up to tell her story about her participation in the Challenge Program.  She is a shining example of the type of woman who goes through that marvelous and important program.  Diagnosed as bi-polar and already through five divorces, she fought her way back, with the help of the program and her mentor, Betsy Zackrison.  She is now a Peer Support Specialist and a qualified success in life.  It is always interesting to me how when I hear these stories, the women telling them always say how nervous they are to speak.  I wish they each could know how much every single woman in the room is rooting for them to be successful and it doesn't matter one whit, if they stumble on a word or two in their speech - we are all so very proud of them.  I hope they can all feel the love in the room, because there is tons.  Congratulations, Tammy!

The luncheon ended with some major booty-shaking, not only from the stage, but the crowd, too!  Tsadok Porter, again from WBTT, had everyone up on their feet, each doing their own impression of Tina Turner's classic, Proud Mary.  And really, I'm not even kidding, there was dancing going on - at a women's luncheon, no less!  Tsadok did a terrific impression of Tina's fab legs going to town, with her long hair flying and fringe swinging wildly on her dress.  A really fun way to end the luncheon on such an up note!  Good times....

I must mention the food.  It has been so long since I have had pasta at a luncheon.  I remember 100 years ago, Michael's On East used to serve their bow-tie pasta at luncheons quite frequently, then everyone got all salad conscious.  I must tell you, I adored the mushroom ravioli at this luncheon.  I am going to start advocating more pasta once again!  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it!  The dessert was a lovely slice of carrot cake. 

In addition to those pictured below, also seen in the crowd were, Dr. Marguerite Barnett, Annette Ross, Kirsten Fulkerson, Ann Thompson, Nita Oppenheim, Betty Pickard, Vee Gary-Chiulli, and Sharon Monk.

Janice Zarro and Liz Maggio

Laurie Dignam and Susan Hines

Fran Valenic and Lydia McIntire

Cecilia Alexander's butterfly shoes 

Judi Bell and Christine Jennings

BJ Creighton and Renee Hamad

Kathy Francoletti and Eva Slane

Donna-Lee Roden and Heidi Bodor

Sheryl Vieira and Jamie Aymerich

Pat Johnson and Margaret Mason

Annette Dignam and Leslie Edwards

Wain Maass and Jane Kiebitz

Betsy Zackrison and Tammy Williams

Tsadok Porter and Teresa Stanley

This should have been video, as the crowd was rockin'!

The centerpiece, which will be prettier, when open.  Most of them were opened beautifully, just ours wasn't!

Yummy Carrot Cake for dessert